Today is Fredric Jameson's 80th birthday. We thought we'd use the occasion to consider his vast influence on Duke University Press. Jameson is William A. Lane, Jr. Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of Romance Studies here at Duke University, where he has taught since 1985.
Former Executive Editor Reynolds Smith remembers when Duke was considering hiring Jameson.
"I remember vividly the excitement around Duke when it began to seem possible, even likely, that Fredric Jameson would come to the university to be part of its faculty. My friend and Duke University Press author, Gustavo Perez Firmat in Romance Studies, was on the hiring committee. When he and I talked about Jameson as a prospective Duke hire, it was as if we were talking about some marvelous, miraculous event like the discovery of gold on West Campus. Jameson was not only the author of acclaimed works like Marxism and Form, and The Political Unconscious, there was now actually a book about him! About he himself! An introduction to his work published by none other than Cornell University Press, in which he got billing in the title alongside Louis Althusser and Karl Marx! Karl Marx! In fact Jameson’s name was first! Jameson, Althusser, Marx: An Introduction to the Political Unconscious! That this should be true of any living literary critic, let alone one at Duke University, was astounding. Gustavo and I sat in the audience at Fred’s job talk, watching him hold forth on Madame Bovary in his brown leather motorcycle jacket, and my jaw hung open."
The rest, to use a cliche, is history. In 1991 we published Jameson's book Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, which remains our all-time bestseller. Smith says,"What turned out to be most amazing was that the marvelous things were only beginning at Duke. With the strong support of our Provost, Phillip Griffiths—whom, in that era of glasnost and perestroika Fred would come to call 'the Gorbachev of our university'—Fred, Stanley Fish, and all the other intellectual stars they would attract to the university over the coming years would transform the humanities at Duke and at Duke University Press beyond any of our abilities to imagine at that time."
Jameson and Fish started a book series with us, Post-Contemporary Interventions, which came to include over 120 inflential books, including The Cultures of Globalization (1998), which Jameson edited with Masao Miyoshi, and Jameson on Jameson, a book of interviews with Jameson edited by Ian Buchanan. He has also published in our journals Social Text and SAQ. Jameson continues to support the Press in many ways, including reading manuscripts and recommending scholars.
Editorial Director Ken Wissoker says, "I've often called Duke University Press 'The house that Fred built.' His Postmodernism made possible all that came after. Like the Duke Literature Program, still filled with brilliant intellectuals, each of whom could trace the threads of their thought to an aspect of Fred Jameson's, the Press's list changes all the time, but the centrality of Jameson's topics, ideas, and questions remains."
Happy Birthday, Fred, and thanks for everything, from all of us here at Duke University Press!